In a 2016 interview with The Signal, UC Irvine coach Mike Gillespie might have best summed up Keston Hiura’s situation in 2017 with the MLB Draft looming on Monday.
At the time, Gillespie was discussing Hiura’s spot on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team despite not being able to play the field due to an elbow injury.
“To be kept on a team that only has 12 position players and you’re unable to play defense,” Gillespie said, “is a testimony to what he did as a hitter.”
So too is the approach Major League Baseball teams now appear to be taking with Hiura, a Valencia High graduate who served as Irvine’s designated hitter this season as a junior because of the same injury.
No, he’s not projected to go as high as he might without a health concern. But his brilliance with the bat (he led NCAA Division 1 baseball with a .442 average) widely has him projected as a first-round pick.
“If UC Irvine’s Keston Hiura makes it this far,” wrote Baseball America’s John Manuel of the No. 15 pick, “Houston will pounce.”
The Signal took the same action at the prospect of interviewing Hiura before the draft.
Q: Where are you planning to watch the draft?
A: I’m still in school, so I’ll be out in Irvine to watch it. I’ll have some of my teammates and family over.
Q: Is there any part of you that’d like to come back for your senior year?
A: There definitely is, I mean, with a lot of relationships I’ve built over the years with coaches and wanting to finish my degree. But I’m also really excited and looking forward to starting a professional career as well. It’s definitely mixed emotions with all that. But looking forward, my ultimate goal is to play at the next level and this may be my best opportunity to do that.
Q: If you do sign, is coming back and finishing your degree something you’d plan on?
A: Definitely. I definitely want to finish my degree. It’s something I’ve always told myself (I’d do), regardless of baseball or not. I’m majoring in business economics and during the off-season I’m really looking to finish my degree whether on campus or online.
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in college on the field?
A: I think it’s enjoying every moment that you get. You’re surrounded by a great group of guys that come from all over the place, so being able to experience that and the college atmosphere, with all the hype and competition, that’s something that I’m definitely going to miss.
Q: Biggest lesson off the field?
A: I think just staying true to who you are. Baseball aside, college really challenges who you are and who you want to be. You’re ultimately, sports aside, working toward your career and what you want to do in your life. So I think staying true to who you are and understanding who you are and who you want to be is really important.
Q: On the topic of very important, what’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?
A: I would have to say the Ben & Jerry’s half baked ice cream.
A: I have to say it’s a tie between Frosted Flakes and Apple Jacks.
A: The Sandlot.
Q: Do you still think it’s a good movie, or is it just nostalgic?
A: I still enjoy it. I remember a few years ago I saw Sandlot at Dodger Stadium. It was the 50th anniversary of it. I watched the game and was able to go on the outfield grass after and watch the movie on the big screen there. A lot of the cast was there that you could meet with and talk to and get pictures with.
Q: An elbow injury kept you from playing the field this season, how’s it feeling these days?
A: Elbow feels fine. I still haven’t thrown yet, but I haven’t felt any pain in it this whole season. Ultimately, we’re not going to know how it is until I begin throwing again, which will be hopefully sometime soon. I’m looking hopefully for the best outcome and to be able to get back on the field.
Q: What position do you see yourself at as a pro?
A: I view myself as second baseman. I’ve played infield my whole life. That’s somewhere I really feel comfortable playing and am confident making the most plays. Whether it is in the infield or ultimately I get moved to the outfield (it’s OK). I feel comfortable playing the outfield as well.
Q: Favorite Valencia High memory?
A: I’d probably say senior year (when he hit 14 home runs and batted .500). That was a very special year for me. It helped me get here to Irvine and moving forward into my career.
Q: Who’s your favorite current big leaguer?
A: I would say (Rockies third baseman) Nolan Arenado. He comes out to Irvine a lot in the off-season and works out. So I’ve gotten to know him pretty well, and to watch his work ethic when he’s hitting and playing the field, taking grounders, it’s definitely something really special and amazing.
Q: How have you grown as a player at Irvine?
A: I came here to Irvine as a freshman not expecting much. There were a lot of players on this team that were very successful at their respective high school. Coming in your goal is to make a good first impression and do whatever you can to get in the starting lineup or get playing time. From then to now (for me), it’s more just maturing, getting stronger. As the years go by, new players come and you get to create relationships with them and you get respect through actions and who you are as a leader and as a player. So nothing much has changed. It’s more just getting older and maturing and enjoying things more.